Back in the mid-‘90s, when my son Joshua suffered from severe cystic acne as a teen, I wish I had been a licensed aesthetician and knew what I knew now. The first doctor we saw said the only thing he could do for my son was to put him on a heavy acne drug. Before prescribing it, a nurse asked me to sign a paper stating I understood the potential side effects of the drug. I told her I wouldn’t sign anything I had not fully read and wanted to do more research on it. She was less than pleased, but my son was glad I was being cautious at the time.
Back then doctors and non-skin professionals knew little about how some foods are triggers for acne and how hygiene figures into all this as well. If you suffer from acne or have a child who does, you are certainly not alone. Approximately 40-50 million Americans suffer from it as well. It can caused by stress, hormones, diet or a combination of all of them. During times of stress, cortisol (a steroid hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands to release androgens) remains elevated. Androgens then increase sebum (oil) production and encourage the development of acne.
What can be done? You can introduce a stress-reducing regimen into your life such as yoga, meditation, prayer, being out in nature, reading, tai chi, deep breathing, or treating yourself to a beneficial facial or massage. Find activities that bring you joy and you just might see your acne abate.
Another element is diet. Reduce or eliminate refined carbohydrates such as sugar, processed grains, white flour, soda, and fruit juices — anything that can cause a surge of insulin, since excess insulin can lead to an excess in androgens (male hormones) which causes increased sebum (oil).
Did you know these same foods also increase inflammation in your body as well as trigger acne? Simply put, they wreak havoc on your beneficial intestinal bacteria. The beneficial gut flora play a crucial role in our immune system by keeping the body’s immunity active and productive. Approximately 80% of our immune system is contained in the gut wall. So it’s best to avoid white flour (pasta, bread, muffins, cake, cookies) sugar, fruit juices, soda, Gatorade, aged cheese, milk, all forms of soy, alcohol, and any and all things peanut related.
Foods that help to repair the skin and support liver detoxification and hormonal balance include wild Alaskan salmon, cold water fatty fish, organic chicken, turkey, eggs, unsweetened good quality yogurt, kefir, and grass fed meats. Good carbs can also help: some fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, barley, brown rice, oats, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth and millet. You can throw in avocados, raw nuts and seeds, tahini, olives and olive oil, ground flaxseeds, raw coconut and coconut oil and grape seed oil.
As for what you place on your face, avoid products that contain heavy oils, petrochemicals, and artificial ingredients. And, of course, see me to analyze your skin and advise you on the correct skincare products for your skin type and condition. I treat you using products that contain salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid that is able to penetrate in the pore helping the abnormal build up of skin cells to be exfoliated. This allows oxygen into the pore, which aids in healing. I also recommend regular exfoliation to keep the skin cells shedding and also to allow for oxygen into the pores. Glycolic acid, lactic acid, and enzymes are all wonderful exfoliates for skin prone to acne.
As for home care, use a microfiber cloth for cleansing the face and pay attention to keeping your cell phone clean, wiping it down daily. Rinse your hair completely after shampooing and conditioning, as residue can cause problems. If you wear a baseball cap, clean it often, along with any other head gear you wear. Keep facial wipes handy, but don’t use those that contain alcohol if possible. Oh. And change your pillowcase every day if you have cystic acne. These seemingly small things add up, but you’ll be glad you are taking an active part in not only treating the acne you have, but preventing more from happening!